Hollywood Flashback: 'Wag the Dog' Foretold Bill Clinton's White House Scandal in 1997

Phillip V. Caruso/New Line Cinema/Photofest
From left: Anne Heche, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman in 'Wag the Dog.'

The dark comedy about a president accused of groping a Girl Scout in the Oval Office was released just weeks before Clinton's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was revealed: Writer David Mamet "was trying to think of something that would never happen in real life," New Line's then-production president Michael De Luca says.

The Trump administration surely will provide Hollywood with scandalous creative fodder, but it will be hard to top the boost Bill Clinton gave New Line's Wag the Dog. The 1997 dark comedy centers on a president accused of groping a Girl Scout in the Oval Office.

The White House hires D.C.'s most unethical political consultant (Robert De Niro), who decides the solution is to distract the public by inventing a phony war with Albania. He turns to a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman, channeling Robert Evans) to create the conflict. THR called the $15 million movie "deliriously funny and decidedly cynical." It also was shockingly prescient: Just weeks after its Christmas Day release, news of President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern, came to light. New Line's then-production president Michael De Luca says screenwriter David Mamet "was trying to think of something that would never happen in real life, like a president diddling a Girl Scout."

The parallels continued: Six months later (on the day Lewinsky was to appear before a grand jury), Clinton launched 75 Tomahawk missiles at al-Qaida targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, a timetable some said was more than coincidence. "The film was about manipulation and how you stop a story," says director Barry Levinson. "If the concept of truth and credibility can be deemed invalid, then what do we believe in?"

This story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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